first weekend adventures!

It’s time for blog post from Costa Rica: round two!

Last Friday, after having a brief orientation for ELAP (a couple powerpoints, mostly about how to be safe and what will be expected of me as an ELAP participant), I left with the ISA group going on the excursion to the Arenal Volcano. Lucky for me, Seidy (a wonderful ISA director) introduced me to a few girls who were going on the trip before we left. It turns out that we get along great, and I spent a lot of the weekend with them! It was really nice to finally meet people. I came almost a week after the “Summer 2” program started, so I hadn’t met anyone besides my roommate yet.

The drive to Arenal took about five hours. The first hour or so was fighting traffic to get out of the city, and most of the rest of the drive was on roads that twisted around quite a lot. It was an interesting ride, mostly because we were in a tour bus that was making hairpin turns and going over bridges that seemed to be pretty small! Surprisingly enough, I didn’t get car sick at all. I even enjoyed the views outside the windows from time to time! The scenery was so pretty! After awhile, we realized that we could see the volcano from the bus windows! As it turned out, Friday night was the only time the top of the volcano was visible and not obscured by cloud cover.

Arenal from my hotel room! I'm so glad I got this picture of it on Friday night!

Arenal from my hotel room! I’m so glad I got this picture of it on Friday night!

We drove to another hotel both Friday and Saturday nights for dinner, and maybe it was because we were all super hungry, but the food was delicious. Both nights there was a buffet with a wonderful variety of food and some really good fruit juices as well! (Have I mentioned that the fruit here is just wonderful?). Dinner Friday night was really great because I got to know Laura, Jenna, Alicia, and Amy a little better.

After dinner I ended up going back to my hotel room and crashing because I was still exhausted from traveling the day before and wanted to make sure I got enough sleep to be ready for Saturday!

Saturday morning we were up bright and early! Some people went horseback riding around the volcano, others went “canyoning,” and others either chilled at the hotel all day (there was a nice pool area) or went on their own hiking adventures. I had signed up to go canyoning, so that’s where I headed off to at 8:30 after breakfast.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from the canyoning experience, but it turned out to be lots of fun! We got to rappel down three waterfalls and do a dry drop as well!

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We rode in a bunch of assorted trucks to get to the place where they keep their gear. On the way back I got to ride in the back of one of the truck you can see in the picture. So cool!

The drive there was very bumpy, but very pretty as well. We passed some places with great views of the landscape, and also some tico homes. There were plants everywhere!! Many had colorful flowers, and some just had huge green leaves. I think that was the coolest part of the drive: just seeing how green everything was!

Once we got to the place where the gear was, we all got into our harnesses, gloves, and helmets before one of the guides showed us how to rappel and gave us some safety instructions. And just like that, we were hiking down to the first waterfall! I actually don’t have pictures of the canyoning experience itself because we had to leave our things in the trucks, but there was a guide taking pictures of us and I think they gave copies of the pictures to one of the ISA students so hopefully I can track some down at some point!

If I remember correctly, the first waterfall was 165 feet tall! There were a lot of us, so even though I was near the front of the group I had to wait awhile before it was my turn to drop. Waiting was so nerve wracking! The closer I was to the front of the line, the more antsy I got. I could see the people ahead of me pushing off the platform and hear some of them screaming as they dropped. Then all of a sudden it was my turn, I got strapped into the ropes, the guide with the camera was telling me to smile, and down I went!

It was definitely a long way down, but it was really fun to rappel down next to the waterfall. For most of the drop I was beside it and only got sprayed with a little bit of water, but near the ground I swung completely under the water and got drenched! (I’m pretty sure the guides who were belaying at the bottom were doing this intentionally). When I got unhooked and went to join the other people who had already dropped, I was still shaking from the adrenaline rush. It was crazy to stand on the ground and look up to see where I had dropped from! I still can’t quite believe that I did it.

After that, waiting in line for the other drops was a piece of cake. The first waterfall had been the tallest. Rappelling down each waterfall was a little different, but never quite as exciting as the first one had been. I would have loved to rappel down that first waterfall over and over again. Waiting at the bottom of each waterfall for other people to come down and then hiking to the next one was actually pretty cool though. The waterfalls were beautiful, and getting the opportunity to take in the scenery was wonderful. Like I said before, everything is just so green!

I think the drive from the waterfalls to lunch was even more beautiful than the drive to the waterfalls had been. On the way there, a lot of the scenery had just been trees and greenery, but on the way back the trees opened up to reveal some really beautiful landscapes in the foothills of the volcano.

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I love the green of the landscape and the blue of the sky.

One of the best parts of the experience (besides everything previously mentioned, of course!) were the guides. They were so encouraging, upbeat, and friendly the whole time. It made an experience that could have been really terrifying, especially at first, very fun!

They fed us a great lunch and then the buses took us back to the hotel. From there, I went with a few people I had met before lunch to hike and see how close we could get to the base of the volcano on a path that was near the hotel. Although we didn’t get too close to the volcano, the hike was lots of fun. The changing perspective we got of the volcano was really neat, even though there was cloud cover, but I think my favorite part was finding leaf cutter ants! There were everywhere! Every few yards there would be a string of them marching across the path. Ants with leaves going one direction and ants without leaves going the opposite direction!

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Aren’t they just so neat? There’s a video of them marching along the ground on my Facebook page if you’re interseted in seeing them in action!

The rest of Saturday was pretty relaxing compared to the morning and afternoon. We swam in the pool at the hotel, and later I found Laura, who had gone on the horseback riding trip. Then it was time for another great dinner and a fairly early bedtime.

Sunday morning we were up early again for our morning trip to a waterfall. Even though I was tired and a little sore from rappelling, I managed to get up early enough to have time for breakfast. But I almost missed the bus because I was trying to dry out my still wet gym shoes with the blow dryer in the bathroom! They had been completely soaked the day before. I’m so glad I made it out to the bus in time because I would not have wanted to miss that waterfall!

The hike down to the waterfall was very steep, and made up of over five hundred steps, according to Seidy. When I first saw the waterfall from an outlook at the beginning of the hike, I thought it would take forever to get to the bottom. It actually didn’t take too long though, and it was totally worth it.

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The view of the waterfall from the overlook at the beginning of the hike.

When we finally got to the bottom, we were amazed at how beautiful it was. The water was such a gorgeous blue-green color. There was so much to take in.

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There was even a rainbow!!

And guess what? I didn’t just get to look at it, I swam in it, too! It was so relaxing because the water was so fresh and cool, but terrifying all at the same time because the current caused by the waterfall was so strong that it was almost impossible to stay standing if you could touch the bottom and had to stay in the same place if you were treading water. We were only able to stay for about 45 minutes, but I could have stayed there for hours. It was just so beautiful. Calm, yet full of constant movement. Relaxing, but also very intense. I didn’t want to pull myself away.

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And just like that we had to leave, hiking back up the five hundred stairs to get back to the buses. Although canyoning was exciting, I think that time at the base of the waterfall was my favorite part of the weekend. I just can’t get over how beautiful it was. The pictures don’t do it justice.

So there you have it! My first weekend in Costa Rica was definitely full of adventures. Although I’ve come to find that every day here brings some sort of adventure, even if it doesn’t cause the same adrenaline rush as rappelling or isn’t quite as breathtaking as swimming at the base of a gorgeous waterfall.